I’m aware that the story, the book and the stage play The Diary of Anne Frank is supposed to be uplifting, a ray of sunshine in the otherwise dark world of Adolph Hitler, his Nazi minions and most of the people living in the Axis Powers countries who knew full well what was going on. After all, the teenaged Anne is bright, spunky and full of optimism, even as her family and their friends hide in a cramped attic in Amsterdam to escape the death camps during World War II.
Still, it’s difficult to feel uplifted when we are aware that, in the end, seven of the eight will die or be slaughtered in those concentration camps. And it’s even more chilling when we recall that a band of our "very fine" fellow American citizens recently marched through Charlottesville, Va., chanting the Nazi rallying cry "Blood and soil" and waiving Nazi flags.
Perhaps that is why it is important to see — and take our children to see — The Diary of Anne Frank, the dramatization of the young girl’s life in that attic. It is a well-rendered production playing through Feb. 11 at Stage West Community Playhouse, thanks to a great cast, David Stenger’s fine direction, Nicole Moore’s compelling light design and Tom Capelle’s spot-on sounds.
It’s a stark reminder that even intelligent, well-educated people like the Germans, Italians and other Axis Powers willingly carried out Nazi dictates against innocent people, simply because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity.
Briana Rufino shines as the bubbly 13-year-old Anne. Viewing the attic hideaway as a romantic adventure, she confides to her diary her petty peeves, burgeoning sexual awareness and hopes for the future, even as the days grind into years.
She is matched effectively by the other 11 cast members. Each gives an exceptional performance, including brief appearances by George Freil and Cody Ingle in the thankless roles of Nazi Stormtroopers in the horrifying penultimate scene.
Sam Petricone is rock solid as Anne’s father, Otto Frank. He is supportive, rational and a tireless peace-maker among the sometimes contentious attic residents. Petricone highlights Otto Frank’s soothing ways when he steps in to console his frazzled wife, Edith (an excellent Jennifer Vilardi), when she seems to give up the struggle. Or when he calms down the contentious Mr. Dussel (Ernie Rowland, superior, as usual) or defends the shallow, selfish Mr. Van Daan (a super Jim Hansen) against the other residents.
Kathleen Morgan is exceptional as the formerly pampered and spoiled Mrs. Van Daan. Her long fur coat (thanks to costumer Kathleen Morgan for this convincing detail) signifies her standing. But Morgan makes this socialite warm and real as she bustles about the bare-bones kitchen and makes meals almost out of thin air, cleans the table and calls her husband to task.
Chay Nott is darling as the gangly, unsure teen Peter Van Daan, edging his way toward maturity as his relationship with Anne blossoms.
Angela Gluchowski glows as Anne’s ailing sister Margot, whose quiet, self-control is a stark contrast to the lively Anne. Cheryl Roberts and Keith Surplus are splendid as the attack group’s protectors, Miep Gies and Mr. Kraler, giving encouragement and sustenance as long as they can.
The Diary of Anne Frank is less than two hours long, including intermission, and is absorbing from the first scene to the last. The play reveals Anne’s most famous line, "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart," as either bright optimism, or in hindsight, as bleak irony.